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Handling Grief at Christmas

Okay, so this may be a fairly sensitive subject, but for me, and others I know it is a timely matter.
We lost my brother in law four years ago in November. He was only thirty-six and it still seems like yesterday. This year our Uncle, who travels everywhere is dying of lung cancer, and if we can get him through Christmas, we’ll be lucky.

Very dear friends of ours lost their nine year old son, ten years ago at the beginning of December. A loss like that never goes away.

So when I was reading an article about dealing with grief during the holiday season, I thought some of the suggestions, plus my own, might help some of you get through Christmas a little easier. This is not to say that these suggestions will work for everyone. We all deal with grief in different ways, these are just some helpful hints I’ve learned from my years of being a nurse and caregiver.

First off, if this is your first Christmas without your loved one, allow yourself time to grieve. Some people believe if they keep themselves busy enough, they can out run the inevitable. But, there is no escaping it. In the book Death and Dying, a required read for all health care professionals, bereavement expert Edwin Schneidman says ” The deep capacity to weep for the loss of a loved one and to continue to treasure the memory of that loss is one of our noblest human traits.”

Second. Accept comfort from friends and family. Read their cards, listen to their words. Most likely they are feeling a profound loss as well. I went to the funeral of a friend of ours this past summer. He was only fifty and died in a  freak accident. I kid you not, we stood in line at the funeral home for three hours before we actually got into the building. At the end of the receiving line stood Matt’s widow, heels long gone, make up washed away and hair a mess, but she stood their and hugged each person with all the strength she had left. I told my husband I didn’t think I could be strong enough to do that, and he said, “You get your strength from family and friends in times like these.”

Third. Take care of your physical health. This is no time to let yourself get worn down. Exercise regularly, don’t over do, take regular walks, listen to your favorite music, read your favorite book. And, number one in my opinion is to laugh. Don’t feel guilty if you are attending a holiday party and you catch yourself laughing. It’s okay.

Fifth. Honor your loved one at Christmas whether it’s done with a toast at dinneror through a donation to his or her favorite charity in their name -even something as simple as getting one of those little tree’s already decorated for the table in his or her memory. Just talking about favorite memories, playing your loved one’s favorite music with family around or making their favorite dish can help. The saying is gone, but not forgotten. I think you’ll find once you start talking about all your loved ones little quirks, the table will be all smiles and laughs in no time.

Finally, don’t forget the ones left behind. Tell your children, parents, your entire family, how much they are loved and cherished, not just on Christmas, but everyday of the year. Leave no room for regrets.

Have a Blessed Christmas.

DEBBIE

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30 responses

  1. Debbie, I think I love your last statement most of all, “… . Leave no room for regrets.” It’s really just that simple.

    December 15, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      It really is, Angela. Thanks!

      December 15, 2010 at 5:15

  2. I found this post about dealing with grief during the holidays insightful and helpful. This will be the first year my mother, who has altzheimers and doesn’t even realize it is the holidays, will not be here celebrating the holiday with us. Of course I will visit her and give her a gift, something she can use at the nursing home, but she won’t be here. We also in the last five years have lost my father and great aunt. I like the idea of toasting them all at dinner to honor their memories. Thanks Deb! Christmas hugs,
    BA

    December 15, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      I’m so sorry to hear that, BA. Alzheimers is such a hard disease to deal with when you remember everything and they don’t, but at least you have memories of the good times.

      December 15, 2010 at 5:15

  3. Truer words never spoken. I received word yesterday that a cousin who shares my birthday of December 27 has mesothelioma. It seems worse to hear that during a season when everything is supposed to be a joyous occasion.

    December 15, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      I’m sorry to hear that, Toni. And I keep feeling like I’m spouting platitudes, but enjoy each day you have. Life is so short. Even when I used to work in the nursing homes. The elderly would say the same thing, that it felt like just yesterday they were twenty.
      I love that Kenny Chesney song, “Dont Blink”. It is so true.

      December 15, 2010 at 5:15

  4. Very nice post, Debbie. The holidays are always a hard time when our loved ones are no longer with us. And I’ve read the book you mentioned, “Death and Dying”. It was a few years back, but an excellent book as I remember. Hugs.

    December 15, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      That book was such an eye opener. It has helped me so often when trying to help families deal with loss.

      December 15, 2010 at 5:15

  5. This is a very thoughtful post, Debbie. So many of us DO have loved ones who are no longer among us during the holidays, and I think sometimes we truly do let them slip our minds after time.

    This has reminded me to take care this holiday to honor my father, no matter how busy the season may get.

    Thanks!

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      Thanks, Carol. I truely believe they are looking over us and wanting us to take joy in every day.

      December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  6. Debbie, everything you said is so true. Even if the people we love and lose don’t die on or around to the holidays, they’re still missed terrible. And the holidays make that void so much more noticeable. As a tribute to my loved ones lives, I hang special little frames with their pics inside on my Christmas tree each year. It’s my way of honoring them and that helps me in a way that can’t be explained.

    Four years ago, a day or so before Thanksgiving, we received news that mom’s sister had been diagnosed with bile duct cancer and given only six months to live. I remember standing in the kitchen with the phone in my hand, then crumpling to the floor, crying and praying. I’m a spiritual person and draw strength from prayer. I think my faith is all that got me through that year. And I’m thankful to say, she’s still with us.

    And now this Christmas, my step-dad’s in the hospital eighty miles away. He has a benign tumor in his head and had to have a feeding tube put in because it was becoming more difficult to swallow or eat. Seems the tumor is growing again at a faster rate and pressing on his esophagus. After having the surgery, he contracted pneumonia, but he’s doing better, so I’m thankful.

    We just have to show the ones we love, sick or not, how much they mean to us, how special they are. And if we leave this world with no regrets, we’re truly blessed.

    Merry Christmas, Debbie. I love ya!

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  7. debbiegould

    What a wonderful tradition. I like that, I think I will do the same for my brother in-law, dad and Gram and Gramps. Having an orniment of them on the tree would be very special.

    And I agree, I don’t want to leave this world with any regrets, and most of you that know me, know my family is everything to me. To continue to honor them after they are gone is a privledge.

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  8. Yes, Debbie. We all know how much family means to you, and that’s part of what makes you special. I think you’ll enjoy honoring your loved ones with ornaments.Somehow makes it feel they’re a part of things. Each frame I choose is with a specific loved one in mind. 🙂

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      I know I will! Thank you for the idea.

      December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  9. I lost my husband four years ago, just a little after New Years. I still get to thinking of him and how he loved the Christmas season, he decorated so much. He really got into it, he built a tree outside one year that the whole neighborhood came to see and marvel at. He worked on that tree endlessly. He loved decorating and making things. I miss that spirit a lot now.

    I’m just now getting to where I can listen to music again, we used to do that and I don’t know I tune up an cry most of the time when I hear some of the songs.

    For two years I couldn’t write romance at all. It just wasn’t there. But thankfully, now I am back to writing and doing so much better.

    WE all grieve differently, I remember I used to be a custodian in a school and went to work at a elementary school after he died and
    I would work and cry and try not to let anyone know I was crying. My daughters don’t cry much ever and when they see me they think I’m just a ball of mush, but I do cry and let it out. The thing I wonder about is how long does the grieving last? A lifetime, maybe?

    I lost my folks one day apart and I went a little out of it for about two or three hours, and then I got up and went to one funeral one day and the other the next, they were divorced. But the grieving for them was so differnt than the grieving for my husband.

    I’m better, but there are times when I’m not.

    I guess it’s that way for everyone who loses a spouse, all I can say is tell them you love them every day.

    But I have gotten much better.

    Great article and everyone should read it.

    Merry Christmas to all
    Love and blessings
    Rita

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      Thanks for sharing, Rita. You’re right, everyone grieves differently, and every loss is felt at a different level. I’m not sure the grieving ever ends, but I do hope it gets easier to live with as the years go by. Thanks again.

      December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  10. I feel for you, Rita. ((hugs)) Can’t say the grief will ever go away, because I don’t think it does. But time makes it a little easier I suppose, or at least dulls the pain. I haven’t lost a husband or my parents, but family, still, and a few who were very young and hadn’t even started to experience life yet.

    Things just take time, and none of us are the same. We handle our losses differently. And I’m sure with your husband loving Christmas so much, the holidays are especially hard for you. Just glad you’re finally able to write again. 🙂 Take care and God bless.

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  11. Blake Deveraux

    As someone who’s experienced loss a lot, and unfortunately my family has experienced a lot of that loss during holidays, birthdays and other special times, in recent memory there have only been two deaths that didn’t either involve a birthday or holiday of some sort. It would be extraordinarily easy to just ignore the holidays and just move on, but you said something that has sort of become my mantra. “Remember those left behind.” My family needs stability, we need some joy, we need something to hang on to. The holiday season is a perfect time to reflect on those gone, laugh at their antics, cry at their love, and in general honor their lives. If you remember them as they lived, I doubt any one of our loved ones would want us to destroy tradition, to tear down the very simple things that help hold us together as a family, that celebrate love. For me, that is what I’ll be doing this Dec. 25th. As always my prayers are with you, and all those hurting this season.
    Blake

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      Thanks, Blake. I do know how hard the holidays are for you. Having seen the way you celebrate Christmas, I have to believe your family is very thankful for all that you do. It’s a very beautiful tradition you uphold, and even if you don’t do it for yourself, I hope some of the joy rubs off. You deserve a merry Christmas.

      December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  12. Leave no room for regrets.

    I agree. So…I love you, Debbie. You’re wonderful.

    🙂

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      Awwww, and I love you, Sarah!

      December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  13. Debbie, what a wonderful blog and perfect so many who are facing a very happy holiday season because of a loss. I can tell by the enormous response you have received from this blog, that many feel the same as I do that this was a timely and much needed message. Thank you.
    Sarah

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      I have to admit I was a little worried when I wrote it, but it has gotten a wonderful response. I hope it can help. Thanks, Sarah.

      December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  14. It’s sad to think of losing someone anytime, but during the holiday season it is somehow worse. There is nothing that makes the hurt go away but the suggestions you’ve made will certainly help a person cope.

    No one talks about this kind of thing. This was a much-needed post. I hope enough people see it that they can pass along the advice.

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      Thanks, Tess. It really is a difficult time of year for some. Many feel guilty if they find themselves enjoying a moment, but I can’t believe their loved ones would want that. We need to honor them and share our memories with others. That way they live on.

      December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  15. Fantastic post, Debbie. Thanks for sharing your tips with others.

    December 16, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      Thanks, Faith. I hope it helped.

      December 16, 2010 at 5:15

  16. My Mom just passed away on the 4th, after slipping away gradually for the past 4 years, from dementia. I watched her lose parts of herself for years, crying many times after my 3-4 weekly visits. She hadn’t said my name for quite some time, then gradually lost the ability to even talk. While I’m trying to believe that she is better off now, I still miss her, even though she’ hadn’t been the Mom I knew and loved for years. She still looked like her, and needed all of the love and care I could give her. I know I did right by her, but this Christmas is going to be very difficult and tear-filled. I’m having a memorial for her on Sunday. I will be leaning on my husband and 4 young adult kids for strength…and on my friends and relatives who will attend. Because just as we give when we are feeling strong, so will we receive when we are weak. That’s what love is.

    December 17, 2010 at 5:15

    • debbiegould

      I am so sorry for your loss, Fiona. It sounds like you have a strong support group to help you through. I will be sending out a prayer for you and your family, and I hope you can try to find a special time to enjoy Christmas, even if it is a small moment.

      Hugs!

      December 17, 2010 at 5:15

  17. Amelia

    So much of what was said here is so true. A lot of our family is in the medical professions and I worked as a Medication Aide for over 10 years (years ago), so when someone is diagnosed, we kind of know what is to expected of a lot of illnesses.

    One of the things that most people learn in their life time is a way of coping with death, that helps them. Some of it is the way your family(s) cope, some of the “traditions” so to speak of coping and some that you learn as you go.

    My mother HATES to go to funerals and as a result as we were growing up my sisters and I did not learn “good” skills for dealing with death as we were just told that so and so died and we were expected to just go on with no closure. Nearly everyone needs a form of closure in order to have a way of coping and letting go. For me, I need to have that funeral/memorial service to start the letting go. The closer I felt towards that person, the more I need it. And the older I get, the faster I need to start that closure. That sounds strange, but time does seem to fly faster as you get older – or you realize your own mortality more, I’m not sure which is more true, but I find that I seem to accomplish less now than I did even 10 years ago. And diffinitely less than 20 years ago…..

    Nearly all of the deaths in our family (and friends) seem to come in three’s. If you listen to the media, they are even mentioning that now, when famous folks start passing.

    One of the things that seems to help our family accept the death(s) a bit more “easily” is that we have what could be called “wakes” with every death. We have the funeral/memorial service with the gathering of friends and family at the church/cementary or wherever the service is being held. But then the close family and friends gather at someone’s home, and we have food, coffee, tea (NO BOOZE) and whatever else for the next several hours. We tell stories, and at times take pictures of people still with us at the time.

    Some stories that come out might never had come out except for the need to make sure that they were passed on. Most of the family stories have been oral and a lot have been lost. My sisters are always surprised at what family history I have picked up, but then they moved away, first college and then marriage, right after high school and have never been back except for short visits. One sister comes for funerals on my mom’s side of the family, but neither for dad’s side. And as a result have missed out of a lot of family news and history.

    My dad, grandmother (mom’s mom) and cousin died within 13 days of each other in 1983, my mom, sisters and I grieved for a long time. My folks had just celebrated their 31st anniversary, but if you say something to my mom she will tell you that they’ve been married for 58 years – and yes she still celebrates their anniversary. I admit that I still wish my dad was around, but not with the amount of pain that he was in from his cancer. I just wish someone had said that he’d had cancer much sooner, instead of when it was past being able to be treated stage.

    My sisters and I have been “preparing” for years for when mom passes. We know that we have her on borrowed time at moment, and have for the last several years. She’s had several brushes with incidents that anyone else would not have made it through, so we know that God still has a plan for her, and until that happens, we have her with us…. What ever part of her that is still there. She’s not dementia or Alzheimer’s but lack of oxygen to the brain due to her heart not being able to pump more to her brain. The only thing that the doctors can do for her at this time is keeping her comfortable… No more bypass, no transplant (plus she’s 80) and because she doesn’t react typically to most meds, very few med adjustments at this time.

    The best thing to do as tell your family and friends how you feel about thim, daily, weekly, monthly – whenever you converse. Don’t stay angry without good reason, as if something happens you will carry that with you for a very long time. Stay in touch with the people you carry about via emails, FB, or snail mail. You don’t need to be dropping a big fat packet of letters, just a postcard even is enough.

    Then when that parting due to death happens, you can find a measure of peace that you won’t believe.

    If you’ve lost a loved one, and you need some closure, write them a letter, telling them what is in your heart. You don’t have to send it to anyone, or read it to anyone, but once you’ve written it you can either put it away for a later date to read, pass to your kids or just tear it up. You’ve got it out on paper and who’s to say that your loved one wann’t there to read over your shoulder as you wrote it. A lot of people find that by doing it that they find some closure and then some of their grief lessens and they can start moving on.

    A friend whose wife committed suicide (due to intense pain – chronic pain) found that this was the way to release his pain. Three years ago he remarried and now with early stages of Alzheimer’s is happy/content.

    I don’t know if this is making a lot of sense, but I hope so. I will also offer if you have children, do not hide them away from memorial/funeral services. You don’t need to force them to attend a service, but “hiding” them from death is doing them a disservice that they will need to grow. We weren’t allowed to go until we were 18 & my mom couldn’t hold us back any longer.

    My one sister does fine a funerals, but my other one avoids as many as she can – and we are all over 50 years old.

    December 19, 2010 at 5:15

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